Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder



     But Heinlein didn't accept this offer. His aim wasn't merely to tinker with my book. Instead, having determined to his own satisfaction that Advent was the source of his problem, he set out to bring this matter to a rapid conclusion.

     On February 17, 1965, he wrote Advent a letter. Here he assumed the moral high ground. He spoke as someone of consequence who had been disrespected, and also as a private citizen who had had his personal life invaded by an unscrupulous investigator unleashed by Advent. He said:

My dear Kemp:

     I have your letter. If, as you claim, your purpose were a "valid critical evaluation," you would have obtained some experienced, respected and qualified critic such as Conklin, Knight, Merril, Moskowitz, Boucher or P.S. Miller -- not an untried college student.

     Your letter bulges with such words as "ethical conduct," "high standards," and "integrity" but it boils down to a statement that you intend to publish if you think it will pay.

     I told you that Panshin was prying into my private affairs; you ignored it. I told you that I had had trouble with him in the past; this too you ignored. I told you that he had conned my best friend's widow out of a file of my personal letters; you brushed that off as merely lacking in "tact."

     By what you have not done and by what your letter failed to mention, you cause me to think that Panshin told the truth where his story won't jibe with yours -- i.e. his claim that you commissioned him to write a book about me, that you initiated the project and urged it on him. If so, you could have told me your plans concerning me before you solicited him -- and the reasons for this cavalier omission and the conclusions that may be drawn from it I leave to you.

     Not that it matters which story is true -- condoning lies for one's own benefit is in no way morally superior to lying. If a man doesn't care whether his associate is honest, then he isn't much interested in honesty no matter what he says. As Emerson put it: "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."

     Now to try to save the "spoons:"

     I forbid you to publish any portion of my copyrighted works in connection with or included in any work by Alexei Panshin. This includes the sort of quotation often used in literary criticism as I cannot expect fair treatment from a critic who has repeatedly tried to violate my privacy and has underhandedly obtained my private letters, nor can I count on fair treatment from a publisher who condones such actions. I forbid the quotation of uncopyrighted material owned by me at common law, including but not limited to letters, speeches, lectures, etc. I forbid the use of my name or my picture in connection with any work by Alexei Panshin, its title, dustjacket, publicity, advertising, etc. I make also a general refusal of permission concerning the joint venture between you and Panshin on any point on which my permission could be required including any point on which permission is usually taken for granted but which could be refused.

     I direct your attention to my letters to Arthur George Smith, deceased, and note your disclaimer of intent to use them. I notify you that Panshin, in a letter to Mrs. Smith, asked for my letters for the specific purpose of using them in writing a book about me for Advent:Publishers. These letters are therefore necessarily prime source material for any book written by Panshin about me. No disclaimer on your part can change this. The damage was done as soon as Panshin read those letters. I place you on notice that I am a "private person" in the legal sense. You are particularly cautioned against publishing material quoted from or derived from my letters to Arthur George Smith and are warned that these letters cover many subjects including but not limited to my professional methods, my evaluations, my religion, my ambitions, opinions, etc., and many facts of my personal life. You are warned that only the barest facts of my private life are public knowledge and you are notified that these letters are, to the best of my knowledge and belief, Panshin's major source of information about me since he does not know me and his attempts to breach my privacy by quizzing my friends have largely been frustrated. Thus any allegation by Panshin about me, true or false, may be and probably would be derived from those private letters.

     I will not preview his MS. If you publish, you do so at your own risk. I reserve all redresses under the law of privacy, of libel, of copyright, or other statutes or common law or in equity, by suit, by criminal action, by injunction, or other legal processes, against you, your directors, your writer, or others, as the circumstances may appear.

     You boast of Advent's "high standards." Free Speech and Free Press permit anyone, no matter how unqualified, to indulge in "literary criticism." But Panshin, in addition to being a tyro, has shown ungentlemanly, unethical, and -- in one most essential matter -- dishonorable and illegal methods in gathering his material. You cannot, simply with proud words, dissociate yourself from his acts.

     Kemp, look up what "condoning" means. Then look up "accessory." You are in this equally with Panshin.

     It was a sorry day for me when I met you.

Robert A. Heinlein

     Copies of this letter were sent to the Authors' Guild, to the Science Fiction Writers of America, to George Price, to Heinlein's lawyers and to Heinlein's agent, and Heinlein kept three for his files. Eight copies! He must have had to hit his typewriter keys very hard.

     I discovered that I was in a shooting war with Robert Heinlein only after I'd taken a direct hit between the bows.

     One day during the last week in February 1965, I opened the family mailbox in the Okemos, Michigan post office to find a fat envelope from Advent. Inside it were four letters.

     The topmost was an official note from George Price, my editor at Advent. It said:

Dear Alex,

     The attached letter from Earl Kemp, and the copy of Mr. Heinlein's letter to us, will make it clear that ADVENT cannot continue with your book.  It pains us to have to do this, especially after you have already done so much work on the book.

     To make up in some small part for the trouble you have been put to, we are enclosing a check for $50.00 in discharge of all obligations on our part. We would also like to assure you that we will be happy to consider any future work, not dealing with Heinlein, that you might care to submit to us, and we will give it special attention.

     Our regret is intensified by the fact that the part of your manuscript which we have seen impressed us most favorably; we are sure that it would have made a book that both you and ADVENT would have been proud of.

     The part of the manuscript which we now have is being returned to you under separate cover.

Very sincerely,
George W. Price

     The second letter was from Earl Kemp. It said:

Dear Alex,

     Circumstances far beyond our control make it totally Impossible for us to continue with the projected book of criticism of the public writings of Robert Heinlein. Consequently, this letter will have to serve as our resignation from the project. It is far better to stop now, before the manuscript is written, then to face the possibility of producing a book of blank pages.

     Putting aesthetics totally aside, I cannot possibly convey to you how very sorry I am that this simple little attempt at valid criticism has gone so far astray. The misunderstandings have evolved way out of hand, even for something as inconsequential as our amateur strugglings through Advent.

     Personally I am extremely sorry for all the effort you have expended thus far, again more than I can say.

                      Most sincerely,
                      Earl Kemp
                      for Advent

     The third letter was longer and less official. In it, George Price expressed more personal regret for what was happening, and reiterated his belief in the quality of my manuscript. He explained that while the fans at Advent had no doubt that they could publish my book and eventually win any lawsuit that Heinlein might bring, for them to defend themselves would take money that they simply didn't have. And George advised that I not let Heinlein know that the book was also my college thesis lest he threaten the school as well.

     The last enclosure was Heinlein's letter to Advent....


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